Summary and Analysis of “To a Skylark” by P. B. Shelley

Overview of the Poem

“To a Skylark” is a masterful composition, crafted by the hands of the literary genius, Percy Bysshe Shelley. This esteemed piece of poetry was first published in the year 1820 and has since earned its place among the pantheon of Shelley’s most prized works. This lavish tribute to the skylark, a small bird with a big reputation for its beautiful song, is a dazzling ode to the mystery and magic that surrounds this avian marvel.

Shelley captures the essence of the skylark’s singing via the use of vivid imagery and language that rises to the heights of eloquence that it has the unparalleled potential to create sentiments of surprise, marvel, and delight in those who are lucky enough to hear it. This heavenly poem has received recognition for its lyricism, its realistic depiction of nature’s splendour, and its eulogy of the transformative power of the arts.

Summary of “To a Skylark” by P.B. Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley, a virtuoso poet, composed a symphony of words in “To a Skylark.” In this masterwork, the speaker praises the skylark as an embodiment of unconstrained spirit, whose heavenly melody comes from a heart bursting with happiness. The skylark climbs to incredible altitudes, singing its catchy chorus like a flaming comet against the blue sky. It seems to have no physical shape as it dances and flies in the sun’s brilliant lightning. Even if the speaker’s eyes stop following the bird, its song will continue to echo through the atmosphere, just as the moon’s light permeates the night sky when it emerges from behind a solitary cloud.

The skylark is a mystery, known only to it, for it is a being of exceptional splendor, even more radiant than the colors of the rainbow. Its song is like a shower of melody, brighter than the brightest of rains. It is like a solitary damsel in a palace tower, soothing her lovesick heart with her song. It is like a luminous firefly, spreading its radiance amongst the flowers and verdure where it hides. It is like a rose surrounded by emerald leaves, whose fragrance is carried on the winds, causing the bees to swoon with its excessive sweetness. The skylark’s song surpasses all else, even the rain that falls upon the gleaming grass and the flowers.

For the first time in his life, the speaker is pleading with the skylark to share its most pleasant thoughts, because he has never met anyone who takes such a rapturous pleasure in the simple things that make life wonderful. The bird is unburdened by the fears that plague humans and is immune to the ailments that plague mankind. Man’s happiness cannot compare to that of the skylark, even if he were to overcome his hatred, pride, and fear. For the poet to have even a little portion of the bird’s ability to sing and provide joy would be an unfathomable blessing. If the skylark could only transmit a fraction of its joy to Shelley, he would be able to produce poetry that would bring its readers as much pleasure as he gets from hearing the bird sing.

Critical Analysis of the Poem “To a Skylark” by P.B. Shelley

“To a Skylark” is a celestial ode, crafted by the inimitable Percy Bysshe Shelley, at the very peak of his poetic prowess, at the tender age of twenty-eight. This celestial composition is a hallmark of Shelley’s imaginative genius and stands tall among his numerous masterpieces. Shelley, undoubtedly, is the most captivating and theatrical of all the bards of the early nineteen hundreds, and his lyrical mastery is unparalleled.

The form of this celestial composition is that of a lyrical ballad, a genre known for its musicality and its ability to convey the poet’s innermost thoughts and emotions.

The structure of the poem is a series of eighteen radiant stanzas, each comprised of four celestial lines, known as quatrains. The rhyme scheme of the poem is a celestial tapestry, woven from a multitude of patterns, with rhyming couplets, alternate rhymes and a harmonious blend of both, adding to its celestial beauty.

The meter of the poem is the iambic pentameter, characterized by its five celestial pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables, in each line. The rhythmic beat of the poem, creates a celestial melody, which elevates the language used to describe the skylark. This musicality, adds to the overall lyricism of the poem, creating a celestial atmosphere that is fitting for its subject matter, the singing bird.

Shelley gives the soaring bird an eternal respect in this poetic ode, speaking to it as if it were a divine inspiration and a forerunner of magic and wonder. The skylark, with its echoing trill over the heavens, is a metaphor for the “harmonious madness” of inspiration because it represents the purest form of lyrical expression. Effortlessly rising to the heavens, it symbolises the unrestrained pursuit of beauty and truth and the lofty ideals of the romantic imagination.

In addition, Shelley personifies happiness within the bird, giving it the characteristics of a “blithe” spirit and making it a happy herald of peace and prosperity. The skylark has become emblematic of the soul of poetry and song, which is a tribute to the staying power of the romantic era. The skylark, as Shelley so eloquently puts it, is a metaphor of the limitless potential of the human spirit to soar to great heights and bring beauty into the world by its voice, which enchants and bewitches the globe.

Wordsworth’s vision of spiritual oneness with the cosmos through nature is encapsulated in the skylark’s singing, which is a symphony of heavenly purity. There isn’t a hint of melancholy or bittersweetness in the bird’s joyous refrain, in contrast to the frequently convoluted human feelings. Its melody is so sublime that the poet attributes it to a divine “Spirit,” rather than a mortal bird.

The skylark personifies pure idealism, untarnished by the sullying influences of exploitation and enslavement.  Shelley describes poets in his essay “Defense of Poetry” as the “unacknowledged legislators of the world,” shaping the course of nations with their proclamations of fundamental truths that act as moral guideposts for the people. Skylarks are similarly elusive, yet their ethereal songs serve as a poignant reminder of nature’s mystical beauty to those who hear them.

The poet earnestly petitions the heavenly skylark to share the pleasant ideas that must definitely underpin the bird’s joyful singing with him and the rest of humanity. The poet calls the bird a “Spirit” and muses on how love and the inebriating ecstasy of wine inspire man’s impassioned outpourings of song. But he also admits that no human song can compare to the torrent of joy that escapes the skylark’s beak.

The poet considers the triumphal chant and the chorus hymeneal as examples of human songs of joy and celebration, but he concludes that these are all superficial imitations of the skylark’s song of pure joy and ecstasy. Despite the fact that humans find great pleasure in singing, there is always some “hidden want” that diminishes the beauty of the experience, the skylark’s song represents a state of perfect bliss known only to the bird.

P.B. Shelley gave the skylark consciousness in a mythopoetic personification, pleading with the bird, “Teach us, Sprite or Bird, / What sweet thoughts are thine.” Unlike humans, who are keenly aware of both the causes of their happiness and the causes of their sadness, the skylark is supremely happy because it is blissfully ignorant of everything other than its own contentment.

The skylark is unafraid of death, a subject that worries human existence, because it has firsthand experience with the afterlife. The skylark has an insurmountable advantage in terms of enjoyment because of this understanding, which eliminates any fear of death.

Shelley saw in the skylark more than just a beautiful singer; she was also a profound thinker and powerful orator. It was not limited by the constraints of the physical world; rather, it was a “unbodied joy,” a spirit from the heavens that personified perfection and awe.

The poem’s idealisation of the bird, which may seem implausible and exaggerated to some readers, actually serves as a striking critique of human existence by drawing attention to the suffering and unhappiness that are inherently part of it. Shelley finds the magnificent objective of all human aspiration and labour in the skylark’s heavenly flight in this heavenly masterpiece.

There is a possibility that Shelley’s description of the skylark comes out as overly fantastical and utopian rather than a realistic portrayal of the bird. But this heavenly creation is the very expression of the poet’s lofty idealism, embodying the highest and happiest human values. Despite its serious subject matter, the poem leaves us feeling uplifted and optimistic, and conveys a message of happiness.

This Poem is a wonderful poetic masterpiece, flowing naturally and effortlessly, capturing the core of Shelley’s genuine feelings. Poet’s unquenchable hunger for divine joy is stoked by the effervescent songs of the heavenly skylark, which raises the lyrical grandeur of the poem to new heights.

Like his classic work “The Cloud,” this heavenly piece is a shining example of Shelley’s musical skill, as he has expertly given lifelike shape to the bird. The critic is impressed by Shelley’s ability to imitate the melody of the skylark’s singing, employing a stanza that builds like the bird’s song and culminates in a “shower of melody.”

As such, the poem is more than just words on a paper; it is the poet’s literal rendering of the skylark’s singing in verse. This musical quality makes “To a Skylark” a supreme and timeless masterpiece, making it the apex of Shelley’s lyrical talent.

In “To a Skylark,” Shelley’s skylark soars higher and higher, never touching down on earth like Wordsworth’s skylark does, leading some to believe that Shelley was a man who lived far apart from the practicalities of life.

The beauty of art, the elegance of simile, the infinite flights of imagination, and the lyrical quality that makes “To a Skylark” a peak of romantic literature all the same make it one of Shelley’s best works.

Literary Devices in the Poem “To a Skylark”

In the poem “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the following literary devices can be found:

1) Personification

The skylark is personified as a “blithe” or happy spirit in the first line of the poem, and later in the poem, the poet addresses the bird as a “Spirit.”

2) Symbolism

The skylark symbolizes pure poetic expression, high romantic imagination, idealism, and the spirit of poetry and music.

3) Metaphor

 The skylark is described as a “Poet hidden / In the light of thought” and its song is described as “Harmonious madness.”

4) Imagery

 The poem is full of vivid imagery, such as the skylark soaring up to a great height and raining down its song upon the world.

5) Alliteration

 The repetition of the sound “h” in “hidden” and “hymns” creates alliteration in the poem.

6) Hyperbole

 The poet describes the skylark’s song as surpassing every other beauty, making the speaker believe that the bird is not a mortal bird, but a “Spirit.”

7) Repetition

 The repeated use of the word “song” throughout the poem emphasizes the central theme of the skylark’s song.

Themes in the Poem “To a Skylark”

In “To a Skylark,” some of the major themes include:

1) Poetic expression

The skylark is used as a metaphor for pure, unadulterated poetic expression, symbolizing the “harmonious madness” of inspiration.

2) Idealism

 The skylark represents idealism, freedom from corruption and exploitation, and a harbinger of peace and progress.

3) Joy and happiness

 The bird’s song is a symbol of happiness, personified as a “blithe” spirit in the first line of the poem.

4) Love and passion

The poet reflects on the feelings of love and passion that inspire human outpourings, and compares them to the skylark’s song of joy and ecstasy.

5) The unknown and the mystical

 The skylark is personified as a spirit and is seen as a symbol of the unknown, with the poet reflecting on what might be behind the bird’s ecstatic song.

6) Death

 The skylark’s fearlessness of death is seen as a source of its incomparable happiness.

7) The power of art

 The poem highlights the power of art, particularly poetry and music, to serve as a moral guide for society.